An insight into business coaching in Russia
Moscow based executive and team coach, Alexei, reflects on Russian business coaching and its cultural landscape, trends, and development. Alexei invites two Russian business leaders to share their thoughts on coaching in the Russian business world. He also gets insights from a leading Russian neurosurgeon to support the science behind coaching.
Business coaching arrives in Russia
Business coaching came to Russia in the late 1990s. Russia was a rising economy, full of business opportunities and an exciting place to be for expats and young, ambitious locals. The economy was recovering from the financial crisis of 1998-9 and there was a growing recognition for new approaches to people development. Pioneers of coaching started offering their services and organising training events, often inviting coaching masters from abroad.
By the 2000s multinationals operating in Russia increasingly recognised that their local managers needed to foster a more modern, Western leadership style, and coaching firmly established itself on HR development agendas. Within a decade, coaching evolved from a new innovative practice understood by few in Russia to a commonly accepted approach to maximising human potential. As with many new practices, coaching was spreading through Russian businesses from the top down. Top managers who experienced the benefits while working or studying internationally became the first role models and embodiments of coaching philosophy in our culture.
The rise of coaching in Russia
According to the International Coach Federation (ICF) fact sheets, their Russian chapter membership grew from 150 members in March 2013 to 413 members by May 2019. For comparison, there were 2,267 ICF members in the UK and 14,006 in the USA in 2019.
While coaching is still relatively small in Russia, its development is highly dynamic. Self-development is an immensely popular topic, especially with the younger generation, and ‘successful success’ gurus, as we jokingly call them here, draw rock-star-worthy crowds. A well-advertised coaching seminar with a renowned speaker targeted at professionals, can attract more than a hundred participants.
Current coaching trends in Russia
In terms of current trends, coaching is becoming increasingly important for groups and teams, although I often hear clients and participants labelling sessions as ‘training’ rather than coaching. Corporate clients have become more discerning in their selection of coaching providers: a proven track record of successful results, testimonials, and case studies has become increasingly important to decision makers, while it’s a given that professional qualifications and accreditations are in order. Clients and the professional community have increased their demand for scientific evidence and proven methodologies. They want the coaching approach, benefits and value fully explained.
As the market becomes more educated and more consciously selective, psychodynamic orientation is gaining more attention. In my opinion, it is currently considered to be the most advanced and impactful form of coaching for the most difficult and complex business situations, where more conventional methods fail to create desired change or to provide insights into hidden dynamics.
Finally, I see more and more Russian HR professionals, business leaders and owners showing genuine interest in and completing world-class coaching programmes – not to become professional coaches immediately, but because they appreciate the approach per se and see value and meaning in coaching both for their own growth and for the organisations that they lead.
Local business leaders share their thoughts on coaching in Russian business culture
The zeitgeist of the period coaching appeared in Russia – Andrey Eremin, Businessman
The first time I was faced with the difference between the so-called Russian, European and American management styles was in the FMCG distribution sector at the turn of the millennium. A lot has changed since then – the melting pot of globalisation, as one might have expected, made the change. In my opinion, the Russian and American approaches had a lot in common: ‘results at any cost’, ‘do or die’, and ‘up or out’. The European paradigm is a bit more mundane – stable, sustainable growth and profitable mix.
In the Russian market, multinational players were backed up by multi-billion-dollar safety nets of mother corporations and enjoyed access to cheap credit. Those conditions enabled some companies to conquer their market share in an aggressive and dizzyingly expensive manner, while others had to achieve similar goals while suffering losses depending on their business plan. Russian business could only rely on itself and enjoy credit at 30-40% interest. A typical strategic horizon was one quarter long. Monthly cash flow fluctuations could ruin the business or boost company growth. Any tax inspection presented businesses with that eternal Shakespearean alternative: to be or not to be.
The Russian management style of that time was a product of tactical warfare scenarios. Close supervision, micro-management, directiveness, and a lack of sentiment were valued. Sales volume by any means, à la guerre comme à la guerre (all is fair in love and war). Those were critical drivers of those days. Developing human potential, delegating and coaching were considered to be meaningless wastes of time. First of all, in the heat of the fight it was mission-critical to execute orders properly in a strict disciplined manner, not discuss or question things unnecessarily, demonstrate personal heroism, or to try and play it cool.
The only really highly demanded training of that time was team building. Quite often what was meant by that term was essentially a banal company-sponsored party. Eventually those growth patterns stabilised, which led to a management paradigm shift that created some real business empires. Today the only differences between a large Russian FMCG company and a multinational one is probably the size of business and the language of business correspondence. An international management style, with all its nice-to-have accessories, is looked for, valued and expected.
Coaching in Russia today – Julia Demchenko, HR director
Over the last 20 years views on coaching in the Russian HR community have evolved significantly. First seen as some fancy foreign development practice and understood by a few true fans, coaching became a widely used approach to people development. It is now seen as a safe and normal practice and employees in general have a positive perception and overall acceptance of coaching.
However, the quality of coaching is still quite unpredictable. There are still too low entry barriers, still too many unqualified people in practice, which impacts quality and the reputation of the industry. Many people call themselves coaches and we need more clarity on what exactly these people do, and what businesses can expect from them. Coaching is perceived by many as a skill that is really easy to acquire. Anyone can learn it, practise it and make a living from it.
Are our leaders good coaches? Our culture is very top-down: we are famous for being directive. Good leaders use a coaching approach more intuitively. As they become more mature they listen more, preferring to ask rather than tell staff when to do something or give advice.
The science behind coaching – Andrey Reutov, Neurosurgeon
One of the most important conditions for insight to happen is the desire of the individual to move forward and grow. Another necessary condition is the state of being stuck: our brain fails to produce a satisfactory outcome and we feel the need to broaden our perspectives by talking to someone who could possibly show us a way out.
Sadly, anatomic brain development is over by the age of 25. However, the good news is that if a person intentionally strives to learn something new and to grow, two areas continue to form new neuron connections, primarily the hippocampus. Our brain is self-learning and very plastic, and so keeps creating rich contexts and opportunities for it to develop itself. We are expecting a lot of groundbreaking research in neuroscience in the coming years.